I often see problems in the world and wonder why someone doesn't fix them. Then I realize that I am someone, and that makes me feel bad because it is all my fault. Obviously I can't fix every problem, but I decided to try and fix one in particular.

The majority of voters say the ailing economy is the most important problem for the next U.S. president to solve. How does a voter who knows little or nothing about economics decide which candidate has the best economic plan?

As you know, the media is worthless in solving this problem because they like to give equal time to both sides, no matter how ridiculous one of the sides might be. Or worse, some media outlets make no attempt to be unbiased. Realistically, the media has no idea which economic plans are likely to work best, so even if they wanted to be objective and informative they don't have the tools or the incentive to acquire them.

The economy is arguably the most important issue in the world, having a huge impact on everything from global warming, to health care, to defense. And voters have no reliable information upon which to make decisions. Someone needs to fix that. Realizing that I am someone, I decided to take a crack at it.

At substantial personal expense I hired a professional survey company to poll professional economists and find out which presidential candidate's plans have the most support. Obviously there is a limit to how unbiased the survey can be, since economists are human, and most of them presumably belong to a major political party. We'll try to take that into account with the survey design. But no matter what the result, I think it will be useful.

For example, the idea of a gas tax holiday was condemned by economists in both major parties. I expect there are other plans that have virtually no support from economists in either camp. That would be useful to know.

But suppose economists are evenly divided on a particular tax plan. Is that useful to voters? I think it is, because the only rational thing for you to do as a voter in that situation is to support the plan that taxes yourself the least. And you can do that with a clear conscience if there is no agreement among experts that taxing yourself more will help the world in the long run.

I think we would all agree that having better information won't influence most voters. If every economist in the survey somehow miraculously supported the same candidate's positions, it wouldn't change the votes of hardcore Democrats or Republicans. But in a close election such as this one, independent voters, who I call the Rational Few, end up making the decision. I am hopeful that for that influential group, better information will lead to better decisions. If the Rational Few are indeed influenced by a poll of economists, and it tips the election, economists will forever be polled before national elections. Problem solved.

And in this way I plan to fix the economy, end the energy crisis, rationally address global warming, and provide low cost health care to all. In return, I expect the public to call me an idiot. I'm pretty sure that's why "somone" doesn't fix problems more often. But I can take it.

The survey will take several weeks to pull together. I'll give you the results when they are in.

On a separate note, I probably won't post an entry until later this week. I'll tell you what I'm up to later. It's not a vacation, but it is a good thing.

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Jul 14, 2008
I am genuinely impressed. Kudos to you for putting your money down on a valuable piece of research. I'm very curious to see how this works out.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
Hi Scott,

I must say that is a pretty cool plan. I have an economics background, BA in math and economics and an MA in economics with a concentration in money and banking. I have over 15 years of research experience in both academic and private sector research, survey research being one of my specialties. I have some comments and an offer.

I am curious about your methodology and which survey company you are using. One thing I have learned from being in the private sector is the dramatic lack of methodological rigor used by professional survey companies. Sample and response rates are probably the biggest violation. Your most likely sample will either be some sort of panel or whatever the company can buy from existing lists. The best claim I have ever heard for response rates is 30%. Typically online response rates are in the 1% to 5% range, CATI is a bit better at 5% to 10%, mail is usually closer to the CATI rate, I am not too familiar with in person capture, but I doubt you will be using that technique for your target group. These methodologies used by survey companies can produce very biased results. Make sure you get good answers to the questions of where will they get sample and anticipated response rate.

Consider the following yardstick. If you wanted to publish your results in a reputable peer reviewed academic journal (HBR does NOT fall into this category) your response rate should be 75% at a minimum, several journals use 85% as a cut off. If you call your research exploratory you might get away with a 50% response rate. These rates are one of the main reasons business research is rarely if ever used by academics. When the government is collecting data for official policy action (not just recommendation) you will need something close to an 85% response rate. If you want to find out how good and upfront the company you are using is ask the following question. What is the relationship between the sample I need to get reliable results and the population from which the sample is drawn? This is a trick question. The right answer is that sample size is not determined by population size (unless the overall population is very small, which the population of professional economists is not.) An unbiased sample from a high response rate is far more important than just a large number of responses as an online survey company may promise.

I could write about methodological issues at length but will refrain. The point being, get the best sample and highest response rate possible so that you information will be considered useful. Professional survey companies do have the benefit of collecting large amounts of data quickly, but sometimes you have to ask “is my data any good?” There are academic research companies out there, but they are very expensive. A survey of your magnitude, a nationally representative sample of professional economists, would run well in excess of $100K to meet academic rigor.

Good luck with you venture. If you are looking for some help in forming your survey and reviewing your methodology I would be glad to help. Send me an email and I will send you my CV and publication list for your consideration.

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
Wow! This really gets me. Can we, maybe each one of us, try to take on a small problem. Attack it with whatever little means we have. Try to solve it no matter how dumb or rediculous the approach. Just for the pure unadulterated fun of it.
Thanks Scott.
Jul 14, 2008
hmmmmmmm..... I was planning on not voting because I hated both candidates. But in an effort to pretend that this country has a chance of not going down the crapper... I am willing to vote for whichever candidate that your survey recommends (assuming it does). While some people may consider this to be an uninformed decision I am satisfied with the fact that it probably puts me comfortably ahead of the majority of voters.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
'Rational Few' - I like that...I've never been a member of a political party, nor do I wish to be one. So when asked, I say I am unaffiliated, or independent, but being one of the Rational Few has a better ring to it. If it catches on, we could have RF bumper stickers, T-shirts, TV commercials, and even put up our own candidates for public office.

Hmmm...did I just join a party?
Jul 14, 2008
Careful...you're treading on Bono territory. People don't like celebrities who take a stand. Luckily, as you put it, you are a minor celebrity. This means the criticism is limited to angry blog comments about how self-righteous you are.

I think it's an interesting idea. You have my support.

Jul 14, 2008
Thanks, Scott!
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